Friday, February 25, 2011


I argued previously in a post that some forms of abortion may be morally permissible because the fetus or embryo at certain times of termination is not a person. However, some cases where the fetus is a person may also warrant the right of the woman to abort. Just what are these cases? When her life is in danger and when the pregnancy is due to rape or incest has been the common scenarios given to justify abortion on a rights based justification. Jarvis-Thomson has argued that in the case of rape, it is permissible even if the fetus is a full-fledged person.

But it seems to me that even though we can argue that arguments like Thomson's work to justify that pregnant women are not obligated to keep the fetus alive, the arguments do not justify the intentional killing of the fetus or even letting die (when it surpasses the time when it develops into a person) by other people.

Consider this thought experiment:

You wake up to find that a terrorist has attached you to another innocent victim to a bomb. The bomb will go off if you or the other victim try to disarm to escape from the bomb. The bomb will disarm itself in 9 months time automatically but for that time, you will have to be attached to it with your partner. The costs of being so attached are considerable to you. You will lose your ability to move about, etc, and there are health costs as the bomb and being attached to another persons is very burdensome on the body (not to mention the stress of being attached to a live bomb!). Now there is another way for you to disarm the bomb; you may kill your partner which will, by some elaborate mechanism, disarm it. This has a certain small risk of setting off the bomb and killing you as well by setting off the bomb. Some may wish to take that risk and they may have the right to even if it means certain death for your partner. That seems to be the conclusion of Thomson's argument and you may argue on similar lines for your actions if you so chose to kill your partner. But the question is, is it permissible for someone else, an expert on bomb disarmament in such scenarios, to intervene and help you kill your partner so that you will not have to endure the whole 9 months?

It seems that you can argue that no one has a right to so intervene though you may have the right to disarm the bomb yourself and thus causing the death of your partner, no one else has the right to intervene on your behalf. Any other individual may not have the right to "take sides." Analogously, it may not be permissible for abortion doctors to perform them after the crucial period required for person-hood, on behalf of the pregnant woman even if she has the right to terminate the pregnancy herself. This is a very unfortunate situation for her to find herself in for the obvious reasons but I can see no way around this analogy to justify abortion with the help of doctors, etc. I think the analogy holds for rape but probably also for abortion based on health concerns of the woman.